Birth of PhotoMan at the Himalayas
I often refer to my husband Kosta (Konstantinos Anastasakis) as PhotoMan because I believe even the most ‘regular’ human has Super Power and Super Hero names give me giggles. Here’s the story of how Kosta discovered his Super Power.
What would you do at your darkest moments? When you are in despair, when your whole world fell apart to the point that nothing makes sense anymore and all that is left is your sorrow and self-destructive thoughts? Kosta’s life spiraled downward into a deep void as his first marriage fell apart, followed suit by his once successful business that he no longer cared for nor nurtured. All that he had, at that lowest point of his life, was a vivid dream of the Himalayas.
And so, to the Himalayas he went. To this unknown territory which seemed less foreign to him than his once beautiful life.
‘How did I get here?‘
Kosta often quotes the lyrics of ‘Once In A Lifetime’ by Talking Heads:
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?
Growing up, he did what everyone did back then in Australia: school, job, beach, footie (Australian football), wife, house, car, holidays in Bali and Thailand. By mid-twenties, he accumulated everything that as a regular young man from an immigrant working class family had hoped for: a successful pub, a beautiful house, a gorgeous wife, a flashy car and so on. Whatever he had on the outside didn’t seem to satisfy him within and during the quiet pub hours, he used to look through the pub window as if yearning for the outside world from a prison cell. And he wondered, ‘How did I get here?’
His family thought he was mad to want to go on a trip because of a dream. Kosta thought he had nothing else to lose: his pain translated into alopecia and patches of hair was falling out. Within two weeks since this vivid dream of Himalayas, he was on the plane to Kathmandu.
I heard Kosta retelling these stories many times to friends and acquaintances. I often thought that his entire luggage for the trip consisted of three things only: a camera with its manual, a riddle, and a small book on Tao.
Kosta’s First Camera
It was a different world back then in 1996, before internet or mobile phone. Only film cameras existed and few people had one. Before this trip, Kosta had never used a camera. He thought he had better have one with him because that was what people did when they went on holidays.
Kosta did have a camera – during his pub days, people used to try to sell him stuff, sometimes sources unknown. One of his waitresses’ boyfriend was in need of cash and was selling his complicated camera at a low price. Kosta bought it only because he thought he could sell it to make a profit but soon had forgotten about it.
On the plane journey to Kathmandu, Kosta immersed himself in the camera manual as a way to take his mind away from his suffering. He started snapping away soon after he stepped foot in the foreign land. He had always loved telling stories and he wanted to capture as much of his trip as possible to share with his friends and family back home in Australia.
A Riddle from a Doctor in a Safari Suit
Late one night before his trip to the Himalayas, Kosta drove past a 24-hour clinic and he suddenly thought perhaps he needed to have precautionary tablets for Nepal. He made a U-turn and stopped by this clinic.
Shortly after filling out a form at the registry, a doctor of Indian descend wearing a safari suit came out of his office and called Kosta’s name. Kosta followed the doctor into his office and sat down opposite him as instructed. He thought what a bizarre situation he had got himself into: it was 3 in the morning, there were a few drunks and him in the waiting room, and now a doctor who looked more like a zoologist, who had said nothing other than his name and who sat there smiling, with arms crossed, as if taking his time to survey him. Could the night get any weirder?
‘So you are going to the Himalayas.’ The doctor remarked.
Kosta almost fell out of his chair. He had told no one in the clinic about his upcoming trip. The form he filled out didn’t ask his reasons for this visit.
‘You were blind and now you are beginning to see.’
Kosta didn’t know what the doctor was on about but was intrigued enough to listen. Much of the conversation went in a blur. The only other thing he remembered was how the doctor explained that everyone had a role in life and the roles were not what might seem on the surface; and that he might be a doctor on one hand but he had other roles as well.
Soon the conversation halted and Kosta took his cue to leave. The doctor called him back holding a piece of paper. ‘This is what you came for.’ It was a prescription for tablets which Kosta forgot to ask for from the doctor.
Kosta likes to say how he came back from the Himalayas and became a photographer. He began to see as the doctor diagnosed. However, what he began to see was much more than just through the camera.
I used to see a little book of Tao lying around in our London home. Kosta said he bought it in Kathmandu while he was waiting to fly to Lukla where the trek to Everest Base Camp began. When I asked him what he learnt from the book, he made a joke gong-sound as if to sum up all the Tao teachings.
He did tell me this story of humility on the Himalayas –
It is common knowledge that sherpas are the true heroes of the Himalayas and no trekkers or mountaineers can survive without their assistance. They have very risky jobs but are not always rewarded appropriately, especially true for those who work as porters which seem to be the entry level position. The porters carry all necessary supplies for the trekking such as camping and cooking equipment and their loads are over 40 kg each.
Kosta enjoyed connecting with people and during the 2 weeks trek, he made friends with everyone in his group including 7 other trekkers, 1 main guide, 3 other guides and 4 porters. He had a soft spot for the youngest porter of the group who was only 14 and would often chat with him and slip him chocolate bars.
The snow was unusually thick that year, the journey much more difficult than what anyone foresaw. Only 3 trekkers from his group including Kosta made it to the base camp and the other 5 had to turn back early lest they suffer from acute mountain sickness.
Having faced so many challenges for 2 full weeks, few trekkers could remember to tell you trivia such as their thick socks being constantly wet from the snow. This trivia, however, was the theme of this story because Kosta’s socks always dried overnight.
No one could understand how Kosta’s socks were dry in the morning while everyone else’s were still wet, until late one night Kosta woke up to do you know what. He saw the 14-year old porter sitting by the fire drying Kosta’s socks by holding them on sticks.
A million emotions filled up Kosta’s chest: The young porter needed all the rest he could get but he did this every night to provide Kosta extra comfort. The only way Kosta could express his gratitude was to pretend he didn’t know what he just witnessed since the young man chose to keep it a secret. He felt that if he had mentioned anything to the young porter, even with the purest of intention, the young porter would be embarrassed. He retreated into the tent quietly with all the thoughts and emotions that were provoked by this humble act of kindness.
A joke gong-sound summed it up alright. How else could one describe such profound lesson?
The Journey Began
The Himalayas both revived and inspired Kosta who arrived home in Melbourne, Australia, with renewed hope and optimism for life. One of the first thing he did was to drop off the films. It was his first attempt at using a camera and he was curious to see how the photographs turned out.
A group of people was gathering at the counter when Kosta went back to the photo developing shop. He stepped closer to see what they were oohing and aahing about. He recognized what the people were looking at straight away: his photographs from the Himalayas!
(You might be scratching your head now like I did when I first heard this bit of the story. No, they probably hadn’t heard of ‘privacy’.)
Kosta thought of course these people were fascinated by the photographs. It was before the internet and it wasn’t every day that one came across imageries from such a faraway place. He started telling the people there about the photographs and he continued to share his stories through the photographs to his family and friends. He enjoyed talking about his photographs because he got to relive those ethereal moments up in the mountains.
Back to the prison life at the pub. He was no longer interested in the pub business but there was no other choice. In order to uplift himself, Kosta put up several of the Himalayas photographs on the pub wall.
One evening at around eight, Kosta decided to close early and informed the only two customers of the last orders call. While waiting for Kosta to pull their beers, one of the men asked where Kosta bought the photographs on the wall.
‘They are my photos,’ Kosta replied.
‘Are you a photographer?’
Surprised and flattered, Kosta told them the truth that it was his first time using a camera.
The two men introduced themselves to Kosta. They were both photographers and one of them was well known in Melbourne and Kosta knew of him.
‘Do you have any more of these photographs?’
Kosta was living in the apartment above the pub and he gladly invited the men up there with their beers. He happily told them about his trip through the photographs, thinking that the Himalayas was what interested these photographers.
The photographers had something else in mind and they pointed out some photography principals that people went to photography schools to learn and how Kosta managed to apply these naturally.
‘Are you sure that was the first time you used a camera?’
‘Yes! Just happy snaps.’
‘I think you are in the wrong business.’
A chill descended Kosta and he had goose bumps all over. The biggest gong moment of his life! He realized that people were drawn to his photographs not just because of the Himalayas but the way the images were composed.
Kosta started taking photographs in every opportunity and soon enrolled himself into a photography college. Initially, he wasn’t looking into taking up photography as his profession. He said photography was the only thing that made sense to him then and it was what gave him joy.
So it began Kosta’s journey as a photographer and he continues to spread joy and harmony with his Super Power as PhotoMan.
~ The End ~
*Photo of Kosta’s portrait at the Himalayas by Tony my brother-in-law. Thank you for taking the trouble to collect this vital piece of evidence!
**Photo of PhotoMan and Deka by PhotoMan’s Greatest Admirer. Yes, that’s me!
All other photographs by PhotoMan.